'There is such a taboo attached to bowel cancer, as if we shouldn’t be talking about it' - Bernadette
“There is such a taboo attached to bowel cancer, as if we shouldn’t be talking about it. I truly hope my story encourages at least one person to be seen if they are concerned for their bowel health,” says bowel cancer survivor Bernadette O’Hanlon from Waterford.
“Unfortunately many people think bowel cancer is an old man’s cancer that women or younger people don’t get. I am living proof that bowel cancer does not discriminate.”
Bernadette was 52 when she diagnosed with bowel cancer last July, only a short time after she had completed treatment for Stage 3 HER2 positive breast cancer. While her doctors told her she was free of breast cancer in May 2020, Bernadette was growing concerned about her bowel health.
“I knew that my bowel was not right. I had blood in my stool; I would have terrible tummy cramps and pain after eating certain foods like red meat; my stomach would swell so big after certain foods; and sometimes food would go through my system so fast. My body was telling me it was unwell and I listened to it.
“My doctors told me it was part of the side-effects from my breast cancer treatment and that in time it would settle down. I never accepted that advice. I kept requesting a colonoscopy because I just felt there was something wrong.
“I had a colonoscopy in July 2020 because I never stopped asking for it. My determination and my relentless requests to my doctor most certainly saved my life. I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer.”
Bernadette began cancer treatment once more. She finished 28 rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy for colon cancer last November, and underwent colon surgery in February. To make sure the cancer doesn’t return, Bernadette is currently undergoing an additional 12 chemotherapy cycles.
“Bowel cancer is most curable if it is caught in time," Bernadette says. "If you think something is wrong, be your own advocate for your wellbeing. Excuse the pun, but go with your own gut feeling!”
April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Over 2,800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in Ireland and more than 1,000 people die from the disease every year. Treatment prospects are better if bowel cancer is caught early.
Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line
If you are worried that cancer might run in your family, call our Support Line on Freephone 1800 200 700 to speak to one of our cancer nurses in confidence or download our free factsheet on cancer and genes.
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